The Ponoka Stampede Association (PSA), the Town of Ponoka, and the Ponoka RCMP detachment start planning many months ahead for the Ponoka Stampede each year to discuss policing needs during that week.
With so many visitors to the town, and some inevitable over indulging, policing needs are high during Stampede week, and the RCMP, PSA and the town all work together to ensure adequate policing levels to keep the event safe and family-friendly.
Ponoka Stampede Association
“The Ponoka Stampede Association is fair, honest and community-minded and we’re happy to pay our portion of any overtime (of the police) required for the Ponoka Stampede,” said Bruce Harbin, president of the PSA.
The PSA has historically paid 50 per cent of all police overtime during Stampede, sharing the cost with the town, and hires its own private security as well.
This year, the PSA will pay $68,856.60 plus GST for private security during the Stampede.
The Ponoka Stampede brings a lot of money into town each year, not just for the PSA, but for businesses who serve visitors and for service clubs who work the Stampede to raise funds.
The Stampede is completely volunteer-run, utilizing over 800 volunteers, according to Harbin.
Harbin said he feels that with the spin-off benefit to the community, that the Stampede is “nothing but good” for Ponoka.
Security on Stampede grounds and the beer gardens used to be run by hockey club volunteers, before legislation changed, stipulating that servers have to be pro-serve certified and security has to be licensed and trained, he says.
According to Harbin, at the time when RCMP officer Ken Greenwell was the mayor of Ponoka, the town had an agreement with Dr. Gary Harbin, then-president of the PSA, that the town would pay 50 per cent of the cost for enhanced policing during Stampede week.
Greenwell was mayor of Ponoka from 1995 to 2005.
According to Harbin, that agreement was honoured up until the current town council was formed in October, 2017. Now, each year, the exact amount each side pays is negotiated during several meetings with the town.
Town of Ponoka
Albert Flootman, chief administrative officer (CAO) for Ponoka, says although he can’t confirm the agreement between the town and Dr. Harbin, as he’s never seen it, he says that since 1999, the town has had a long-term lease agreement with the PSA, as some of the land is owned by the town. However, that lease has nothing to do with policing.
According to Flootman, the town has had one official meeting with the PSA and RCMP to specifically discuss policing during the Stampede, and one other meeting between the PSA, town, RCMP and Ponoka County Regional Fire Department to discuss operations during Stampede week, including the parade.
Flootman says the cost-share between the town and the PSA for policing during Stampede week has had a “lack of clarity over the last number of years.”
Flootman says he is bringing a recommendation before council at its next regular meeting, May 14, that the Stampede pay the cost of two RCMP constables on the grounds during Stampede, and for the town to pay all the extra policing costs for the rest of the community during the Stampede.
Although the PSA has its own security on the ground, the presence of constables will ensure arrests can be made if necessary, and provide constant back-up at the grounds to keep residents safe.
If accepted, the agreement would have a three-year term.
This arrangement is similar to what the City of Calgary does for its Stampede, although the scale is 10 times larger, says Flootman.
“The town is a better place because the Stampede puts us on the map,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett, adding the town has been a supporter of the Ponoka Stampede since 1936.
Bonnett says the town will continue to support the Stampede because the 65,000 to 70,000 visitors coming through the gate is “a phenomenal thing for our community.”
Policing during Stampede week is no joke.
According to stats provided by the Ponoka RCMP in 2018 during Stampede week the RCMP received 333 calls for service, up from 296 in 2017.
There were nine assaults, including one against a female security guard at the Stampede, who was punched, one incident where a police officer was spat on in the face, two aggravated assaults, including three victims being stabbed, 41 disturbance calls, 14 incidents of mischief and 15 thefts, including one for over $5,000.
There were also nine impaired driving charges, six 72-hour driver’s licence suspensions, one attempted robbery and three break-and-enters.
The RCMP handled a total of 64 prisoners and issued 117 tickets.
A recent web poll conducted by the Ponoka News asked readers if they felt more police presence was needed during the Stampede, or if they found policing levels in past years was adequate.
“I requested the Ponoka News to run a poll as part of community engagement for a snapshot of how the public feels the police is responding during the Stampede,” said Sgt. Chris Smiley, acting detachment commander.
Of the 116 people who voted, just over 50 per cent said more police presence was needed during Stampede, about 30 per cent said to keep it the same, and about 20 per cent said there is already more than enough.
Community engagement is one of the Ponoka RCMP detachment’s priorities for 2019, as well as traffic enforcement and crime reduction.
For the 2019 Ponoka Stampede, the Ponoka RCMP have determined they will need 30 to 40 enhanced policing shifts above its regularly scheduled compliment.
“Enhanced policing” means any policing needed that is above and beyond what is regularly scheduled for those days, such as overtime for Ponoka officers, officers working on days they would have had off, or time of any officers brought in from surrounding detachments.
To minimize costs associated with policing during the Stampede, Smiley says he imposes leave restrictions and there is no training during that week.
“It’s all hands on deck during Stampede.”
The detachment’s regular staffing levels have improved since this time last year, which means they will require less enhanced positions this year, according to Smiley.
Based on the detachment’s policing resources and staffing levels, and considering the amount of private security already in place by the PSA, Sgt. Smiley, then proposes what the RCMP’s enhanced policing needs will be during Stampede, and gives the town a quote on what it will cost.
The RCMP’s main priority during Stampede is to have the resources needed to manage policing for associated Stampede events while continuing the detachment’s regular duties within the entire detachment area.
“I strive to balance operational need while being cost-effective.”
Smiley says he felt the talks with the town and PSA were productive and that the RCMP’s needs were understood.
“By and large, the Stampede is a lot of fun, family-friendly and a safe event,” said Smiley.
“At the end of the day, I’m very proud to be a part of this event.”